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The image above makes me imagine metaphorically that I am that big green rock holding in balance the different colors of my students.  Teaching is a delicate balancing act.  As teachers, we must set goals for our students, individually and collectively.  Our job is to get on the train every morning and move down the tracks to that goal.  (Excuse the mix of metaphors.)

Sometimes one student can topple the whole balancing game.  We must stop whatever it is we are doing and pay attention.  Focus on needs rather than goals.

This week I had to call on a colleague for help.  I was not meeting a student’s need, and I wasn’t sure where to go next.  I had tried many directions, but none were working very well.  This is humbling.  However, I found strength and comfort in the shared experience.  Reaching out when you feel defeated is tough to do.  I am so grateful now that I did.  My student is better for it.  I am better for it.

My students write every day.  Writing is a brave act. So different from answering questions or working out a math problem.  Writing is personal and hard.

This week one of my goals was teaching essay.  The kind of essay that testing will require in which the student writes about a literary element (in this case, theme) comparing two texts.  We worked with a nonfiction article and a poem.

During a conference with one of my students, I read aloud to her what she had written.  “Blah, blah, blah” was her response.  “I can’t stand writing essays.  They’re so boring!”  After our chat, she typed up her boring essay.  I had to laugh when I read it.  She began with, “Hey, world. Listen here!”  And at a later point, she wrote, “Now that is awesome!”

My students need to be able to express themselves.  Sometimes these expressions come out in loud exclamations, quiet tears, or interjections. No matter the goal, needs may throw us out of balance, or may be the very thing to keep the balance.

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Mississippi Book Festival 2016

Mississippi Book Festival 2016

I am lucky in so many ways. I grew up in the great state of Mississippi, my parents still live there, so I was able to attend the best book festival ever. The author line-up was a middle-grade teacher/author’s dream come true. Just look at that picture above. There’s me with Kate DiCamillo, and me with Jacqueline Woodson, and me with Irene Latham, me with Kathi Appelt, and me, my mom, and my blogger friend Keri with Augusta Scattergood.

Surrounded by such amazing authors and just plain smart generous people I felt amazing, smart, and generous. I also got brave. I realized early in the day that when you ask a question, a famous author knows you and likes you better.

I listened while Kate DiCamillo told stories that I had heard before (at NCTE 2015, on a streaming video with Mr. Schu, and on The Yarn podcast). But as she spoke and told her stories, funny ones that I never tire of hearing, I remembered on The Yarn interview that she said the only book she would consider rewriting was Tale of Despereaux because of its complicated plot structure. As a teacher of smart kids, I happen to love the structure of Despereaux. It makes for great conversations about craft. So I held up my hand and said that to her, face to face; she was looking right into my eyes.

And Kate said that the narrator in Despereaux guides the reader and guided her, too. Isn’t that a beautiful answer? When I stood in the forever-line to get her to sign my books, she knew me. Well, at least for that moment she did.

Kate (I can call her by her first name now since she knows me) left me with this advice as a fellow writer: “Write your Heart.” I have a WIP (work in progress) that is just that, my heart, so I am comforted by that advice.

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With my new brave on, I asked Jacqueline Woodson a question, too. She talked mostly about her new book Another Brooklyn, but I wanted to know how she speaks to social justice through her picture books, specifically Each Kindness.

She told the story that led her to write Each Kindness. She was visiting her daughter’s 2nd grade classroom. A girl came in with striped pants on. Jacqueline admired her pants, but then she overheard another child tell this girl, “Why’d you wear those pants to school?” And the girl covered her pants with her jacket the rest of the day.

each kindness

Jacqueline says you can’t be didactic with kids. You have to teach them through story, so she thought about how all of us at one time or other have probably said a mean thing that we could never take back. Each Kindness makes us think about what we say and the ripples our words may cause. I so admire Jacqueline for her social consciousness and for her gift of language.

Here is advice to writers from Jacqueline Woodson.

I strive for writingas strong as the story.writer's block is just fear.stay open to the musebutt in chair.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

I have taken a few art classes. In art, perspective is important and obvious to the eye. One of my favorite artists is Georgia O’Keefe. A series of her paintings focuses in on the center of a flower. Looking closely changes the perspective. Seeing the center without white space to guide your eye makes the image more focused.

wikiart.com

wikiart.com

My school year ended ten days ago. This period of time I have worked hard to relax and be present. I have actually avoided thinking at all about school. However, teaching is never far from my radar.

Today, I can see more clearly the white space. I understand the structure of my year and have some perspective on things.

At the center of focus is always literacy.  Writing is an important component in my class. We wrote daily about our lives, about our reading, sprinkled with poetry.

But as I look forward and begin to shift my perspective to the horizon line, I see where my focus should be next year.  I will have the same students. In many ways this makes the transition to a new grade level much smoother. They know what to expect. They know me.

Because of this, I will have to be intentional about changes and make them happen early on. I am reading Katherine Bomer’s book, The Journey is Everything. The intended audience is teachers of middle grades 6-8. The highest grade I teach is 6th, but I can see ways to incorporate her ideas in my lower grades as well.

While we need to pay attention to structure in the essay, that is not the purpose. I will continue using blogs as the main format for writing. A few points of perspective their writing will take are 1. writing to discover and 2. writing to explore language.

I want to be more aware of my students’ perspectives and allow them to discover them safely in our classroom. When we focus on the single poppy in the field, we can see more clearly the unique individual. We can honor their voices and work toward developing authentic, valuable writing.

In order to prepare to teach essay differently, I am experimenting with my own writing.  I am trying out “writing for discovery” and “exploring language” with more intention in my blogging.

Perspective as a writer gives me a clearer lens for teaching writing.

you have a story to tell

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for March Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for March Slice of Life Challenge.

 

The day has come that I don’t know what to write about.  It happens to all of us who are committed to this SOL challenge.  In my classroom, students are writing posts about why they hate the SOL challenge.  Among the top reasons is not knowing what to write about.  Vannisa wrote, “When I’m thinking about what to write, I’m always thinking about if I should really write about it or if it’s sol-worthy.”

I totally understand this dilemma.  Not only am I committed to writing a blog post every day, I have that little bird on my shoulder tweeting about the worthiness unworthiness of my writing.  Why can’t he just leave me alone?  I assure my students that we all go through this.  I actually love watching them struggle through because they can be very creative while doing it.

Did I just write that?  If my students become creative when they struggle through the dreaded writer’s blog, then shouldn’t I, too?

I could be writing about my sweet blogging-slice-of-life-best friend Julianne and how she traveled all the way from L.A. to see me and visit my class, and how my kids already knew her name from our class connections.  Oh, and how we talked and laughed and the time was sooo short.

Me and Julianne

Me on the left with Charlie and Julianne enjoying the bayou breeze.

You can meet a little slice of Julianne on her blog here.  She’s traveling to help her daughter select a college for next year.  This is a difficult time.  We all want what is best for our kids, but they themselves ultimately need to make the decision.  Julianne wisely knows from having two older children that no decision is forever.  Still, I hope I provided a safe haven for them on their travels.

When I first connected with the Two Writing Teachers and their March SOL Challenge, I had no idea that it would lead me to such good and lasting friendships.  Julianne is a prize.  I don’t care about any of the other prizes from the challenge.  I have already won.

 

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Rumi quote
 

I am honored to be writing with friends.  Recently I read the book My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.  I loved this book, but I am not going to write a book review.  What I did was took a page, page 191 to be exact, and stole the first line along with the form.  “At times these days I think of the way the sun would set on the farmland around our small house in the autumn.”  The rest of the page is one long sentence beautifully flowing and drawing me in to the scene.

I am not Elizabeth Strout, but I can pretend for a moment that I am.  I wrote.

At times these days I think of the ways the trees look in winter, all that bareness, the blue sky open beyond as wide as the ocean, and how birds are exposed on the branches, last year’s nest an unhidden cluster, and I search in my own life for meaning, trying to make a life when things are not as they seem, when all the leaves are gone, the quiet branches of a tree in winter, and the sky above, open and alive.  –Margaret Simon

Then I invited some writing friends to write from the same prompt.  Here are their responses.

 

At times these days I think about the ways the ocean invites my attention, as the cliff rises up to meet the road, looking down I feel as if I could reach out and touch the blue stillness, and yet below the surface the cold Pacific digs and pulls showing an endless uncontrollable power calling me towards its vast space that was, is, and will be, long after I am gone. —Julianne Harmatz

At times these days I think about how I will be remembered and if it will be because I made them laugh or because I made them think as I talked and talked and talked when maybe I should have been listening and I think it’s because I am changing into someone who needs more time to reflect and be purposeful instead of someone who needs to charge ahead and get it all done and I guess this makes me seem to be going off in a different direction and I guess I am because it not only looks different but it feels different like somehow I am becoming that person I should have been had other influences not forced me to develop traits for survival and strength instead of personal fortitude and introspection. —Kimberley Moran

At times these days I think about the ways my children’s arms and hearts reach out to me…once their hearts beat inside my womb and mine kept time and half time to theirs, I knew each beat and pull of muscle, each twitch of nerve. Now, they live apart from me, but every fibre of every nerve reacts and responds as it did so long ago when they call about heartbreak, loss, love, and hope.  Again, in that moment, we are one body and our hearts beat in rhythm again. —Tara Smith

Then we talked about the process.  The writing of it and how we each came to it with our own unique lens.  The beauty of this.  And how we can do this for our students.  How when we write together in community, not only does our creativity flow, our connection is enriched.

But we also talked about trust.  How we wrote and shared because we trust each other.   When we write alongside our students and build a community of writers, trust must be present.  The students need to trust each other, and they need to trust me.  That I will honor their words and honor the place they came from.   Real writing comes from a vulnerable place.  We need to experience this vulnerability ourselves in order to understand it in our students.  A teacher of writing must be a writer. This is what I believe and this is what my friends writing together proved.

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

This weekend I attended my first ever SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) regional conference in Houston. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was nervous. I thought maybe I was jumping into a place I would not belong, a pond made only for big fish. My fears were relieved almost immediately when I met Caroline walking across the street to the Westin. She told me how scared she was the first time, so she decided she would always find a new person and be welcoming. How great for me. We found a place at a table together, and everyone started chatting and exchanging cards.

I was asked, “Are you an author or an illustrator?”
“Uh, well…”
I said with confidence, “I am an author.”
Then I giggled. “Yes, this is my first time.”

Our first presenter was the illustrator Kelly Light. I fell in love with her. She put us all at ease with her humor and her very real story about her struggle to find herself and live her dream. I was moved to tears by the end. Her first book is adorable, Louise Loves Art.

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At her signing, she gave out stickers. I wore my favorite sticker on Sunday to have some courage to “Be Fierce…So Feline…So Fantastic!”

Fierce feline sticker on my journal with my fierce feline, Mimi.

Fierce feline sticker on my journal with my fierce feline, Mimi.

Amidst the inspiring speakers and the chatting with new friends, I had an editor’s critique of my middle grade work in progress. My palms were sweaty and my stomach was churning, but I walked in bravely. The editor was calm and respectful. She did not treat me as a total idiotic-what-do-you-think-you-are-doing writer. However, I have a lot of work to do. I have hard decisions to make. Revisions to write. But my work is viable. This work is doable. I will not be sending in a manuscript any time soon. I know I am not ready; however, I am a fish in the pond. I can swim freely alongside the other fish. I am one of them. I am an author.

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SOL #29

SOL #29

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Try the Nutshell app.

Try the Nutshell app.

I’ve been playing around with Nutshell now that I deleted all my texts and made room on my phone. One video was inspired by the place I live. It is spring in the deep south. In my yard, the satsuma tree is blooming, along with the wisteria bush. Flowers blooming, spring warmth inspire writing. Can you write a poem to go with this video?

This week we took our 6th grade students to an old oak tree to write. On Friday I posted this poem by Darian inspired by this field trip. Nature is a wonderful place to find inspiration for writing.

What is inspiring your writing these days? Please consider joining the Digital Literacy link up today.

Last night I got a Tweet from @teachr4, Leigh Anne Eck about plans for National Poetry Month. “Are you doing any type of April poetry challenge this year on your blog?” The consensus seems to be that many of us want to continue writing daily. The subject will be poetry, ideas, student activities, and our own writing. I invite you to join a new hashtag for NPM, #DigiPoetry. That way we can all keep up with each other, connect, and support. This is not a challenge. It is an invitation.

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